Sunday, June 03, 2012

Sunday word, 03 June 2012

Absorbed and Transformed
Solemnity of the Holy Trinity C (03 Jun 2012)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Pope John XXII established today’s solemnity for universal celebration by the church in 1331. Some who make the history of liturgy their study classify our celebration as an “idea feast.” Rather than celebrating an event from Jesus’ life at mass, we call to mind a dogma of faith. It is not so cut and dry: we celebrate our one God creating and saving us as Three Persons.
Worship—namely, baptism and its formula; our creed, the norm of our faith; as well as an event in Jesus’ life—his promise to abide with us as he commissioned his disciples: all name the Trinity personally, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Worship and scripture predated creeds! From whom did we get the creeds? From those pastors of churches and holy ones of the first eight centuries. They were known for their holiness of life; they taught and lived the apostolic tradition; they were intimately familiar with the scriptures. To several of these the church has given the honor of “church father.”
The fathers of the church lived in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean world: places like Antioch and Constantinople in the East; Alexandria, Egypt, Rome and Lyons in the West. They were attentive to the world about them, and they were not at all lazy with their minds. More important, they tasted all of life: its daily ups and downs, including slander, threats, exiles, imprisonment and bodily suffering. So when they attended the churches as pastors and taught how to speak of God they spoke from experience, in touch with the rigors of life. We judge them unfairly if we think they were out of touch.
The church fathers have long fascinated me by their earthiness, direct speech, even their quirkiness. Augustine, for example, came to see that he was not created to have sex freely, but as he prayed to God for the grace to be chaste, he ended his prayer with “chaste—but not yet.”1 Others were short-tempered, impatient and not given to hear clearly their rivals. Human foibles and sinfulness never rule out holiness, in the past or present.
One characteristic of the Fathers in the East—the lands of the first sees and earliest worshiping communities, to which Eastern Orthodoxy and our Eastern Churches trace themselves—draws me strongly. They were more attracted, indeed absorbed by, mystery, worship, vision and contemplation in its beholding sense.2 They felt no need to explain the mystery because words distracted people from it, preventing them from feeling its power and being transformed.
The West favored the intellect more. That favoring, which has shaped us, has muted being intoxicated by worship and transformed by the Spirit at work in worship. Intellectual rigor has its place, of course, but for us Christians its place ranks below mystery, worship, vision and contemplation, in its beholding sense.
So to distill four centuries into a sentence: the need arose to offer Christians a way to speak accurately about the one God. The Fathers, reading scripture with great respect, care and unwavering conviction and mindful of what they passed on to the newly initiated and what all sang in worship, taught that the one God creates and saves the world each moment as three Persons, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. This is quirky math gone wild: one plus one plus one equals one! Yet it’s our Christian arithmetic, and we’ve experienced our triune God not out there but personally. I doubt anyone here would “imagine plain words can precisely or truly or appropriately describe the love of the Lord...[to save us or assure our hearts].”3 So I’ll not chatter on and delay our worship of our triune God, who transforms us as we allow God to do.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Enter the Trinity with worship to help you: trace the sign of the cross on yourself several times, saying slowly the Divine Name.
  • Ask the disciples Jesus commissioned to baptize in the name of Father, Son, Holy Spirit to present you to Jesus.
  • Converse with Jesus: praise Jesus for choosing you to continue his work in the world. Ask him to help you enjoy your baptized life more lovingly, actively and generously.
  • Close, saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Saying Jesus’ words, Our Father, reminds us Jesus revealed God personally; and like risen Jesus, his Father brings us more alive by their Spirit abiding in us.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Paraphrasing his Confessions, 8.7.17. 
  2. theoría (θεορία) in Greek. Science, which I love, in its use of the word “theory” suggests a single connotation in which ideas rank (nearly) supreme. Christians today and our modern forebears have been wooed away from mystery and beholding something for its sake.
  3. St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 25 (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), p. 218. John lived from 579 to 649.
Wiki-images by Besednjak at nl.wikipedia of Venn-diagram of the Trinity and by Lyricmac at en.wikipedia of the Great Commission are used by CC BY-SA 3.0.

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